In a brand new art exhibit “Tuck Me In,” three artists redefine childhood in modern society. Nathan Freeman, Monilola Olayemi Ilupeju and Aley Saparoff use paintings, photographs, videos and essays to showcase the innocence of youth and contrast it with larger themes of sexuality and gender.
When you first walk into the Commons Gallery of Steinhardt’s Barney Building where the collection is showcased, one of the first things you cannot miss is a wall of Ziploc bags nailed to an all white wall. This piece is entitled “Hiding Spots Performance.” Objects that range from crayons to pornographic images and underwear are pulled from paper bags on the floor and nailed in clear plastic to the wall, demonstrating the revelation of inner thoughts.
Freeman also decorated a stage with planks of wood emerging from cinder blocks with a video playing in one corner and various essays lining the back wall. The somewhat phallic props mirror the gender-centered essays, which he wrote over the span of one summer. The written wavy words on black paper demand to be read and taken into serious consideration. Freeman explores these themes further through silk screen prints of the naked body. Whether challenging societal expectations of the perfect body or representations of the different genders, his work makes you do a double take and consider your own sexuality and gender in a way never thought of before.
Next up is Saparoff’s work. She created two zines showcasing major themes not typically discussed during childhood. They include text on sex, drugs, fetishes and medication. A major theme of her work is the effect of technology on our lives. In one video she created, the screen yells at the viewer to “Stop looking at your phone; look at me.” It tells the story of how today’s society has made mental illness a trending topic rather than a serious issue.
On another screen, Saparoff showcases sevral scenes with water, including bathtubs and swimming pools. Typically, water represents cleansing. Maybe this is what she is hoping will happen to society today. Maybe she is trying to warn today’s children not to grow up like adults of modern times, who are glued to their phones and care too much about societal norms. Every couple minutes, one video lets out a terrifying laugh and the sound of a baby crying. This showcases the dangerous effects of childhood, if not raised the correct way. She highlights the importance of childhood on who we end up becoming later on in our lives.
Lastly, we have Ilupeju’s work. First is a video entitled “Views from the Futon 2007.” As the camera pans around an apartment, a voice reads text on the screen about God being missing in action, mental illness, hair and honesty. Next comes a series of letters written throughout a life. They mainly focus on death or porn and internet content. These letters show how we grow farther and farther from innocence every moment and become absorbed in useless things. Then, Ilupeju created a beautiful nude painting of a woman of color. She has body hair, her breasts sag and there is a strip of white marks her face. She is unconventionally beautiful, which may be what Monilola was trying to convey. Despite her not looking like a typical supermodel, she captures your attention immediately and still does prove to be beautiful.
Words cannot capture the various meaning these artists worked so hard to convey through their beautiful art.
“Tuck Me In” is publicly accessible through Oct. 9 and is located at the NYU Steinhart Department of Art and Art Professions, 34 Stuyvesant St.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Oct. 2 print edition. Email Julia Fields at [email protected]